Fearing God – Terror Fear
2 July 2017
A study on the proper fear of God by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Last week, we began looking at three general ways in which unbelievers respond to God. Our main point was that a lack of faith leads people to respond to God in ways contrary to fear of the Lord. Each way falls short of the fear of the Lord that believers are to experience. People may respond to God’s greatness:
With no fear of Him (we took up this last time)
With “Unbelieving Anxious Dread”
With empty religion
Remember that the fear of God describes how a person responds to God’s greatness. We’ve said that the unbeliever can only experience the one aspect: terror-fear. But the believer receives a new heart. That heart is expanded so that it can experience the full range of biblical fear of God. Believers experience the spectrum from terror-fear to worship-fear. Worship-fear includes adoring God, trusting God, obeying God and worshipping God.
In Psalm 9, we see that contrast. David, a believer, experienced the full range of fear: from terror-fear to worship-fear. While David doesn’t here mention the fear of the Lord in his own experience, what he describes is indeed just that—a robust awe, reverence and worship. He will then call upon the Lord to stir up the terror-fear in those who afflict God’s people.
In Psalm 9:1-2, David declares his commitment to be faithful to Yahweh and to respond in worship. He expresses that commitment by saying “I will” four times. He is committed to putting his whole heart into thanking the Lord, to telling others about all the wonderful things that the Lord does, to make himself glad so that his gladness erupts into worship and to sing praise over God’s reputation.
Having come through severe trials, David looks back on how God has been faithful to carry out His justice against David’s enemies (Psalm 9:3-6). God has caused those enemies to fail in battle. He has destroyed their cities, pulled them up by their roots and caused them to be forgotten.
In Psalm 9:7-10 David pictures the Lord as setting up His throne and dispensing justice. At the same time that God judges the world in righteousness, He is a safe place for those who are oppressed and troubled. God deals with sin, but He is a safe place for sinners who trust in Him.
In this psalm, David doesn’t shy away from the reality that life is difficult and full of grief. Often things don’t go as they should for righteous people. The righteous are afflicted and it seems as though the wicked get away with evil. It seems that God forgets our crying out to Him (Psalm 9:12).
In Psalm 9:11-18 David looks forward to God’s help, not simply because he needs it, but so that he can have more reasons to praise God. David recounts how God has been faithful to punish the wicked so that those who are afflicted may not lose hope. All of that expresses the fear that a godly believer has for the Lord. But now let’s see the contrast to the fear that unbelievers can experience.
Look at Psalm 9:19-20. David calls upon the Lord to put his enemies in fear—that is, in dread or terror. David prays that the wicked who are so proud would be made to experience real terror-fear. Such terror-fear could humble them and turn them to God. That would be the believer’s joy. But if not, such punishment for the evil they’ve done to us is our relief.
We should never carelessly wish this on them. But it is important for people who are afflicted, who suffer, who are exploited or persecuted, who sometimes barely cling to a thread of hope, to know that their oppressors will be justly dealt with by our righteous God. Because Yahweh our God is holy, righteous, just and faithful to His people, unbelievers should experience terror-fear.
People may respond to God’s greatness with Unbelieving Anxious Dread or Terror-fear
Bible teachers have provided us with helpful terms to label this one “pole” on the spectrum of the fear of the Lord. We’re using the term “terror-fear” from Ed Welch and the term “unbelieving anxious dread” from John Murray. That term “unbelieving anxious dread” is a good way of describing what some unbelievers experience. Murray said that such fear is “the dread which is produced by the apprehension of God’s wrath” (p. 236). That’s what David was praying for. He wanted his oppressors to realize that they had earned God’s wrath and will receive it.
Solomon later warns young people about treating wickedness like a game. Sometimes they will experience panic that will eat them up. He said in Prov 10:23-24, “Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool…What the wicked fears comes upon him”. Fear is here “terror, panic, dread”. It is the sense of panic that a person experiences when they begin to worry about future consequences for their sin. Isa 66:4 uses it of God promising to bring on the wicked “what they dread” as punishment for their rebellion against Him. This fear is worrisome, anxious and manifests itself as panic in the soul, a sense of foreboding doom. It can cripple a person. Solomon’s point is that there is no security for the person who pursues sin and treats wickedness like it’s a game. See also Ezek 11:8.
John tells us in Rev 6:16-17 that when Jesus returns, the wicked will see Him and know that His wrath is coming, they will call on the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the “presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” Apparently after that though, the prophet Micah tells us that in that great day, the wicked nations will be ashamed of their evil and will be humbled and “will come trembling out of their fortresses; to the Lord our God, they will come in dread, and they will be afraid before Thee” (Micah 7:17). They will be in great fear when God calls them to come out.
Paul described the fear that we all had before we were saved. He explained in Rom 8:15 “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons”. Unbelievers are slaves to their fear of death and judgment. The writer to the Hebrews mentioned this saying that Jesus has set believers free from their “fear of death” which caused them to be in bondage to “slavery all their lives” (Heb 2:15). They could not yet see God as Savior, as gracious, as merciful. They did not yet have that expanded new heart that could experience the full range of godly fear.
If you are a believer, let’s say you take your sin lightly and just go ahead and do whatever it is. Then, you are struck with a sense of panic, realizing there may be consequences. How should you respond? First, you must remember that God may use consequences to chastise you and teach you to stop sinning in that way. Second, know that if He does, it is because He loves you deeply as your Father. Whatever He does, it will be for your good, not your calamity. By faith, trust in His wise plan.
Sarah lacked faith that God could do the impossible. When she heard the Lord promise to give Abraham a son through her, she laughed. The Lord asked why she laughed and she lied, saying she didn’t. She lied because she was afraid of the consequences (Gen 18:15).
Another believer, Job, lamented that his greatest fear had happened to him. In 3:25 he said, “For what I fear comes upon me”. Literally, he called it “the fear I fear” or “the dread that I dread”. Great suffering brought about dread and anxiety in his heart. In a sense, Job is saying that he fears fear. He fears a situation that will put him in fear. This helps us understand the fear that arises from a lack of faith in a believer. We may trust God in one area, but maybe not in another.
First, it is a great comfort to learn that such a godly man as Job would experience this type of fear, dread and anxiety. We shouldn’t think of ourselves as second rate Christians when we experience these things as long as we are working with the Lord to change.
Second, it helps to see the picture Job paints for us which captures our own experience with fear. When he is subject to this fear, he sees death as a treasure he longs for (vv. 21-22). Many of us can identify with that. He also feels as if God has built walls of trouble around him (v. 23). In other words, Job feels boxed in, can’t find relief and can’t escape the terrifying circumstances.
Third, Job is an encouragement to us to hope in God because no matter how badly he felt, Job was determined to trust in God: “though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (13:15). We can have strong faith in some areas even while we struggle in another area. This is normal for believers.
People may respond to God’s greatness with Empty Religion
When Jonah was confronted by the sailors, he replied, “I fear the Lord God of heaven” (1:9). His comment is astonishing because he was running from Yahweh at the time! Sadly, he was merely identifying his religious preference, not a real fear of Yahweh.
It also falls short of biblical fear of God when people use the term out of rote tradition. In Isa 29:13, the Lord lamented that the people served Him with lip service and He added, “their reverence (lit., fear) for Me consists of tradition learned by rote”. To them, “fearing God” was a way of saying that this is the religion they had been taught, but had not actually embraced it themselves. Today, people will say that they are a Christian and mean the same thing. Either it’s just a way of referring to their religious preference or it’s what they learned from their parents. But it is just empty religion.
If you have not yet put your trust in Christ alone for salvation from your sins, I encourage you to give a lot of thought to God’s wrath and let the dread of His coming wrath sober you up. You must realize that you need a Savior and only Christ can be that Savior.
If you are a believer, where do you see these “unbelieving” forms of fear in your experience? Study David in Ps 9 and adopt his same robust commitment to worship. Or study Job in chapter 3 to see yourself in his words. Then go to Job 13:15 and make his commitment yours.